Chapter five in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101.
I have a hard time with conversations.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me likely got the first impression that I was aloof or arrogant, cold or only concerned with what I have to say. Sometimes that’s true, but generally what happens is conversation breaks down in my mind.
In high school, I would get latched onto a word and see the best direction for the conversation to go and would insist on bringing something up that people stopped talking about thirty minutes prior. It’s kind of an aspie or autistic trait — I’ve had to learn to fake conversation. And then learn to fake listening. And over time, I’ve at least learned — through actually listening — to care about some things that aren’t my own interests. But truly, I’d be lying if I didn’t say most conversation bores me because the nature of conversation is to sprawl. Conversation almost never comes around to things that matter unless you either hijack the conversation or unless you’re talking with someone you trust, someone whose soul matches the resonant frequency of your own. A kindred spirit. I have a few and my conversations with these people often last hours and go places others cannot go.
So in conversations these days, I’ll often stay silent and someone will think I’m ignoring them or not listening. The truth is, I’m listening a little too hard. I’ve latched onto some word or phrase — yesterday it was “diabetes black market” — and wonder about some world, some story, some what-if in my alternate universe.
Hard. I daydream probably worse than just about anyone I know. Disclaimer: I haven’t talked about this with fellow writers. Those who don’t know what this is like, who have never experienced day terrors or true rapture where you’re caught up in something like Paul’s third heaven (though I’ve never been caught up in the third heaven, I have been caught up in a place that looks oddly like a pool hall and includes a couple of fat guys with cigars and a couple of ladies with pistols), imagine being in a factory line and suddenly finding yourself in Narnia. And you go on some grand adventure, at the end of which you return to the factory line and your boss is yelling at you to pick up the pace because you’ve created a bottleneck at your station. That’s me. I’m convinced that half of the “laziness” of many creatives is simply scheming the next major project. It’s brewing, marinating, stewing just under the surface.
Of course, many creatives also lean into this as some sort of excuse and really are just plain lazy. But that’s another thing I’ve covered pretty extensively elsewhere.
My 9-World Universe that I’ve slowly built up over the years began in Terry Bowland’s freshman class when he was talking about lewd fellows of the baser sort. It was a good lecture, but somewhere in there he mentioned the word “coast” as in “the coast of Macedonia” or something to that effect. Immediately, I took out a white sheet of paper and sketched an island with a river down the middle.
I didn’t realize until later that growing up in Southern Illinois was really growing up in a distillation of a riverland. Eight rivers pierce my homestate. In the lowest section, they converge to make some of the most fertile soil in the world — or at least they do right now, who knows what the changing climate will do to the land in years to come.
The Mississippi tears through that landscape mirroring the great testosterone-wrought divide in the mind of every man, the one separating the hemispheres of the brain. Missouri and Illinois. I’ve convinced myself over the years that 90% of the most important American culture found its inception within 300 miles of the Mississippi — from Hemingway and Twain to jazz and sweetcorn.
In any case, I’m wandering here. River-like.
The point is that I drew this river and coastland on the page and went back to my room and starting writing what will eventually be a good chunk of Book 8 of A.R.C., naming the world “Gergia” from a small and otherwise lost 300-word seed written by a good friend named Seth Caddel (Seth gave up on the project almost ten years ago — it had taken on a life of its own like nearly everything I touch and he moved on to other fiction and nonfiction — we still keep in touch).
That semester, at the bottom of the midnight hour, I finished my first novel. I immediately wrote THE END (cause that’s what a real writer does, right?) and went screaming down the hallway, “I finished my first novel! I finished my first novel!”
I believe it was Old Man Spiel who responded first, who wasn’t actually old but acted every night at bedtime like a geriatric senior bowed double. Old Man Spiel came busting out of his room, hunched over, “Lance! Quiet hours!”
I shut up.
But by that time half of the guys had come out of the doors to jump around with me.
They say nothing will ever come close to your first high.
Perhaps that’s also true if you’re talking about the adrenaline of a first novel — I almost missed my 7am Greek class due to lack of sleep and an abundance of tea.
There is something deep and troubling about finishing a creative project on that scale, like spotting a dark mass moving in the waters.
There is something high and moving like the dawn of God’s return in it. I say this because whatever else we’re doing here, the point is that magic. The point is the daydreaming and writing down of those dreams. We are John. Each novel is our Revelation.
That’s the point of it.
Not awards. Not money. Not the elusive praise from that Biology teacher who called you a turd-flinging monkey after you mis-dissected a pig fetus in your sophomore year of highschool.
The point is dreaming.
And recording the dreams.
Novels are written dreams.
So write your dreams. And then move on to the next one. That’s the rapture. That’s why we do it.
Anything getting in the way of that is obviously an enemy to the cause. Keep that in mind once we start talking both about rejection and contracts.
Don’t have time for the whole series?
That’s okay, I made you a…
Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:
- The Gateway Drug: Poetry
- Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
- Where and How to Sell What You Write
- From Daydreams to Written Dreams
- Rejection Slips
- Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
- Quarterly Assignments
- Making Good Money… in a shadow career
- Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
- Draconian Contracts
- Author Earnings
- Succeeding for Others
- Blaze a Trail All Your Own
cover image by Nick Kenrick